After an evening of ultimate musical bliss, when we were up early next morning to head back to Nellore, it was like waking up from a dream. We wanted to start back before Chennai traffic caught on.
Chengalamma Temple, Sulurupet
There was less talk and only music for most part of the journey. We wanted to stop for breakfast at a roadside hotel in Gummipoondi, where we used to stop for breaks when we were kids but in the confusion of the 6 laning work, we missed it. Disappointed, we had breakfast at Rishi Gardens at Tada. The hotel is new and the ambiance is decent but food wasn’t upto the mark, but then we do not believe in complaining about food, “food is always good” is the mantra we live by.
Tada is on the AP-TN border, in the days of yore, when NH5 was not a 4 lane road, there were milestones on both sides of the road welcoming us to the other state and thanking us for our visit. It used to give us a kick everytime we passed the border. There is only a Hanuman temple marking the border now, this temple was built when this writer was still a teenager.
Talking of temples, from Tada, our next stop was at the Chengala Parameshwari Temple at Sulurupet. This temple and the writer go back a long way, the family still tells stories of how the kid would throw tantrums if they didn’t stop at this temple while travelling to Nellore, no distraction would deter the kid. To this day, nobody, including the kid in question, now grown up to write this blog, has been able to understand why that temple held so much of interest.
Located in Sulurupet, it is the most popular temple in these areas. In those days, we had to go all the way to the Sulurpet town to visit the temple which took up lot of time. Now, the highway goes very close to the temple with a small deviation, making it easy for parents with pesky kids ! The temple is small, with an idol of Chengalamma, a village Goddess, the sanctum sanctorum is lower than the ground level.
The search for Pulicat
Even before stopping at the temple, we decided to visit Pulicat Lake and complete the Bird Sanctuary circuit in Nellore district. Pulicat Lake is also located in Sulurupet and one of India’s largest brackish water lakes. The lake lies between AP and TN borders. It contains the Bird Sanctuary and also encompasses the Sriharikota island, where SHAR, one of India’s premier space centres is located.
For us Pulicat Lake’s main attraction was the Flamingos, this was the peak season and we were very keen to see these birds. Pulicat Lake hosts the Flamingo Festival in January every year.
As we drove through the highway nearing Sulurupet, there were no sign boards of Pulicat Lake. We asked a person at a Petrol station, who first enquired if we were Telugu or Tamil, when we told him we were Telugu, he told us the lake was located on both sides of the border but asked us to go further up from Sulurupet as the main bird sanctuary was on “mana (our) side” ! We had a hearty laugh at the pride with which he said “our side”.
We did a little search on the mobile internet and found a travelogue which gave directions to Pulicat Lake. So, while travelling from Chennai, one has to cross Sulurupet and take the Sriharikota road at the Sulurupet highway junction. Pulicat Lake is 5 kms from the junction while Sriharikota is 15 kms away.
The road narrows as soon as you turn towards Pulicat Lake and 10 minutes later, you will suddenly find that the road is going right in the middle of a water body.
That is the Pulicat Lake and Bird Sanctuary. It is very picturesque, lovely views of the lake and birds as you drive with water on both sides of the road.
The road goes all the way to Sriharikota and there are boards welcoming you to the bird sanctuary, so we drove past the lake expecting to find an entrance to the sanctuary, ticket counters, walkways etc but it turned out to be one open, drive through sanctuary ! At the end of the lake, there is a research centre of the sanctuary. It gives details of the birds that visit Pulicat Lake, including the Greater Flamingos.
We had read about boating facility but it seems that is only at the part of the Lake located at Tada but for bird watching, this is the best place.
We drove back down the lake and parked our car near a group of birds. There were hundreds of these birds, which we learnt were called Painted Storks. We managed to click pictures of a few that strayed close to the road.
While the drive is refreshingly beautiful, we are not sure if it is a great ecological idea because the sound of vehicles seemed to disturb the birds. These Great Egrets, close to the road, were startled even though we closed the car door as slowly as possible. They are flying off because we disturbed them, something we are not very proud of !
Nevertheless, the lake is huge and most birds are far in the middle of the lake, which leaves them at peace except from some morons who can’t stop honking.
Far away in the distance of the lake, on the right side of the road, we found a very big crowd of birds. We could only see dots, we did not have a binoculars and even with the maximum zoom on our camera could not make out what those birds were, for a minute we got excited thinking they were the Flamingos but we couldn’t say anything for sure, so we just let it be.
Painted Storks and Egrets seemed to rule the Lake, we loved watching them in action, quietly searching for food, cleaning themselves, swimming, gazing. We kept looking for Flamingos but couldn’t find any. A week or two before, a TV channel ran a news about how flamingos were flocking Pulicat Lake, there was an article on the internet too. Everybody seemed to have spotted Flamingos except us.
Disappointed, we drove on this time focusing our attention on the left side of the road. There were more Painted Storks and Egrets. This Egret seemed to be in deep contemplation.
These birds were awesome, no doubt but we wanted to see Flamingos at any cost. There is an old structure which serves a view point but we couldn’t see anything from there and it was filthy with litter, dead fish and the like.
The quest ends !
It was close to lunch time by then and we wanted to hurry back as people at home were getting worried by our delays. A little ahead, we screeched to a stop because we spotted another huge gathering of birds, far, far away. From where we stood it looked like a pink carpet. Hoping that they could be what we were looking for, we strained our camera zoom and our eyes to the maximum. Nothing was clear, we could just see some birds walking in the lake, our eyes ached and to began water, yet we weren’t going to give up until we were sure whether they were Flamingos or not. What if they were really Flamingos?
In the 2 minutes that we waited to give our eyes a break, some birds had moved away from the rest, we once again focused on those birds and lo ! this time we could clearly see the unmistakable slender, long neck and the thin long legs ! We had sighted the Greater Flamingos !!!
We were thrilled, cheered and jumped right on the rode, much to the amusement of passersby.
The birds were still very far. We got off the road and walked down to the lake, it was shallow and slushy. There was a tiny island from where we could get a slightly closer view but we did not want to risk walking in the lake, the place was deserted. Quicksand, whirlpools came to our mind, what if we were attacked by someone? We could have gone further if there was a bigger group but we were only two and did not take the risk.
The birds kept walking further and we could get better views from our camera. Are Flamingos shy? Or were they too busy looking for food? Every single bird had its head under water. With their long legs and long necks under water, they looked like 3-legged stools !
We were in awe of the grace of these birds, tall, lanky, quiet and they walked very delicately in the water. We waited for 10 minutes for atleast one bird to lift its head, finally, one of them was kind enough to pose for us.
Considering that our day was made and our trip a huge success, we resumed our drive back. A few yards ahead, we had to brake heavily. A bright blue bird ran across the road. It looked like a hen, it ran and hid itself in the tall grass of the near by fields. We stopped the car and followed it quietly as it stood in the middle of the green fields, its bright blue feathers and blood red beak were a contrast to the fields.
There were two of these birds, one flew away sensing our presence, too quick in flight for us to capture a picture. The internet told us this bird is called the Purple Swamphen. Birds are beautiful, we learnt this during our visits to these bird sanctuaries.
Beaming with happiness, we drove back home. We passed Nelapattu on the way and saw birds flying ahead, “Grey Pelicans”, we could now identify them !
The next two days were spent soaking in the warmth of home. New Years’ morning dawned foggy yet serene and peaceful, a sign of things to come this year?
We left for Hyderabad that afternoon, this time taking the regular Addanki-Nagarjuna Sagar route. It was a big, pleasant surprise to find the Addanki road in great condition, the entire road has been converted into a 4 lane. Earlier the road between Nagarjuna Sagar and Addanki used to be a nightmare. Looks like this road leads all the way to Miryalaguda road connecting it to NH65. We took a deviation to Sagar and the next 40 kms were familiar – bad roads ! We could have gone on to Miryalaguda but that would mean missing Nagarjuna Sagar and we simply love that place.
We reached Sagar, a strategic place for tea breaks, by sun set time. How this dam leaves us in wonder every time !
After driving non-stop for 5 hours, we stopped at APTDC’s Vijay Vihar for hot tea, pakoras and finger chips. A breathtaking view of the Sagar Dam, Krishna River, hot tea, pakoras and finger chips – life couldn’t have been better.
We found this milestone near Vijay Vihar, which seemed apt.
Hyderabad – 1 4 3 (I Love You) !